One of my favorite lessons from TEDMED was the idea of creating a “TED ache”. The theory is that by sharing so many ideas over an intense two days your brain struggles to cope, causing the ache. However, over time, and perhaps subconsciously, you remember the two or three ideas that resonated with you most, those being the ones you try to apply to your work.
At our forthcoming symposium we have no intention of giving anyone any aches but I’ve become fascinated by how an experience can affect information retention and learning. And it’s with that fascination, which is shared across the symposium’s Planning Committee, that we’ve fashioned its agenda.
The Conditions for Collaboration
We want people to experience what collaborative working really feels like. Many people think it’s about extending invitations to folks from different sectors and then tackling some pre-prepared agenda. It’s not. It’s so not. At the heart of collaborative working is developing deep empathy for the people you’re seeking to work with.
The question for the Planning Committee has been how do you create the conditions in which this empathy can emerge. You can’t just tell people to be more empathetic. They have to want to be, and they have to be in a setting that makes it ok for them to want to be.
My temptation, as a former academic editor (and all-round relentless task master), is to fill the symposium with content. Sit down, listen, now go do! Luckily for the participants the Planning Committee includes more rounded human beings. Less than 50% of our time together will have content, the rest will be dedicated to experiencing - through how the symposium is delivered - a collaborative way of working.
We’ll start the first day with some ice-breaking. I have to admit that I was skeptical about this approach until we tried it in our first meeting in August 2014 (it was actually an Institute of Medicine meeting but the Collaborative was involved in its planning so I’ve decided it was ours – don’t tell them). The simple truth is that it’s hard to talk to someone from a different background until you’ve scribbled cartoons together or marveled at the two people wearing bright red shoes (you had to be there – but it worked).
After that we’ll leave you to spend time with the folks at your table. We’ll be deciding where people are sitting so you’ll definitely need the time to get to know the seven or eight strangers that you’ll be spending the next 36 hours with.
Facing our Failures
Then there’s content – difficult content. We’re going to have three speakers from completely different perspectives talk about why we’re struggling to improve health, despite all the fancy talk, white papers and pilot projects. We’ll hear from battle-weary leaders from health, community, evaluation and finance. And we’ll hear from two leaders, one from health and one from community, on the potential flaws in our reasoning that underpin years, perhaps decades, of failure.
The idea is not to depress you but to make it ok to say that this work is hard. Seriously hard. Decades of failure has to tell us that we’re missing something, whether it’s in the perspectives around the table or the reasoning we’ve used in how we go about things. We need to make it ok to re-boot our thinking, start afresh, and, let’s face it, say things like “I don’t know” and “We need help”.
Our hope is that by the time we come together for day two you’ll not only have broken the ice with your peers but also have acknowledged the difficulty of the work ahead and the need to genuinely collaborate. Obviously there’s only so much that a Planning Committee can do – you have to be willing to self-reflect and learn, but we hope to provide the conditions that make that possible.
On day two we’ll get more content – two case studies and six breakouts. The case studies have been carefully chosen as examples of community health programs whose strategic rationales go way beyond risk factors and biological measures. The six breakouts will be delivered by carefully chosen editorial partners that we believe have a lot of practical knowledge to share across a number of facets in this work.
Connecting the Field
Given that we’re interested in strengthening and extending a field of practice (rather than just holding a fancy symposium), we’ll be ending by asking you to make commitments to your new-found table friends. Our intention is to hold you to those commitments, not because of my task-master tendencies but because we believe this work is so difficult we need to create ways to stay in touch, to ask how things are going, and to hear of the obstacles you’re facing on a day-to-day basis.
As regular readers know, we, the Executive of the Creating Health Collaborative, are making this up as we go along. But we’re driven by the unquestionable fact that we need to think afresh and collaborate anew. We hope the above approach piques your interest and look forward to seeing you in Oakland, CA, in May.
Registration will open soon.
- Pritpal S Tamber
Pritpal is the Founder of the Creating Health Collaborative. The symposium is penciled for May 15-16, 2017, and will be in Oakland, CA. More information soon.
The symposium's Planning Committee:
- Brad Caftel, The Insight Center for Community Economic Development
- Bridget B Kelly, Creating Health Collaborative and Symposium Editor-in-Chief
- Katherine Mella, MIT’s Community Innovators Lab
- Leigh Carroll, MIT and Creating Health Collaborative
- Mark Wieland, Mayo Clinic and Creating Health Collaborative
- Ollie Smith, Telefónica Innovation Alpha and Creating Health Collaborative
- Oscar Espinosa, Community Science
- Pritpal S Tamber, Creating Health Collaborative.